The Best Thing I Ate This Week: Garden Gimlets, a Mess of Crabs
Washingtonian’s food team shares favorite dishes from their past seven days of dining.
Cheeseburger at Green Pig Bistro
If there’s a better designer burger out there at the moment, I haven’t tasted it. Scot Harlan, the pork-loving chef at this hipster farmhouse restaurant in Clarendon, mixes bacon into his ground beef and packs the patty loosely. Simple enough, but the results are magical. The porky infusion lends a smoky depth and richness, while the light shaping hand ensures that you won’t be pining for the juicy satisfactions of cheaper, more unassuming versions. You can count on a sloppy lusciousness—a patty that for all its pedigree eats like a five-napkin classic. Points, also, for the bun, which rides up high at the start but eventually settles nicely into the meat, becoming a genuine, coherent sandwich and not a cheffy showcase of great individual parts.
A dozen crabs at Cantler’s
There was perhaps no more ridiculous sight than a cheesy, prom-style stretch limo rolling into the dirt parking lot at Cantler’s, but it was my bachelorette party and Uber wasn’t into the whole Annapolis thing. Overcast skies meant a 45-minute wait (as opposed to the usual two hours), and pretty soon we were seated with a bay view and a glorious spread: warm crab dip with crusty bread, steamed ears of corn, icy bottles of Miller Lite, and, best of all, a mess of sweet, Old Bay-crusted crabs. The rest of the night is a little hazy thanks to more traditional bachelorette activities involving Champagne and tequila shots—but not that dinner at Cantler’s.
Garden Gimlet at Malmaison
If you hate St. Germain, a bartender might be to blame. The elegant French elderflower liqueur is subtle and gorgeous in small doses, cloying and overly aggressive in large ones. If I don’t know who’s behind the bar, I order St. Germain cocktails with trepidation—hoping for judiciousness while preparing for a floral onslaught. Malmaison reminded me recently just how much I love the stuff when I tried the Garden Gimlet: an up drink with Citadel gin, a proper dosage of St. Germain, and a sprinkling of fresh basil and rosemary. It’s so delicate and feminine you think “Paris,” yet it’s bracing enough to wash away the day’s woes. (Let’s not quibble over the strict definition of “gimlet”—this is a very good drink.)
Tuna tataki and rock shrimp and vegetable fritters at Izakaya Seki
Is it cheating to pick two “bests”? Let me make my case: Picking the top dish at this sliver of a Japanese restaurant on V Street is similar to the dilemma I face when ordering. Basically it’s hard to go wrong, and choosing a favorite is just as difficult. The menu plays to many moods: light and refreshing (chilled soba noodles with a bracing soy dipping sauce), exotic (monkfish liver in yuzu vinaigrette), and good ol’ comfort food (just try and pass up those crispy chicken thighs). Those two favorite dishes emphasize the best of all the worlds you can have at Seki, as well as the ability of chef Hiroshi Seki to turn out gleamingly fresh raw fish on the one hand and guilty-pleasure-level fare on the other. In the tataki, ruby-hued tuna gets an added earthiness from a quick sear on the grill and toasted garlic chips. You could almost say the fritters are lighter, with their airy batter and hunks of sweet shrimp. They’re both best washed down with chilled sake and Sapporo (or, as the Japanese often do, a glass of each).